Thursday, November 8, 2012

Into the Belly of the Beast -- sort of

One Friday evening in late October, I found a scan of a flier on a friend's Facebook wall. The flier, I later learned, had been handed out to residents of the Thorncliffe Park neigbourhood in Toronto's east end. Its purpose: To caution parents about implementation of Ontario's "Accepting School's Act," also known as Bill 13, which passed its final reading on June 15th, 2012 and is scheduled to be fully implemented by February 2013.

But your kids will now be forced to learn the 'Same sex life of style' without informing their parents. This new educational policy [sic] completely against our social, moral and religious faith. Throughout the Curriculum," you will notice shocking changes which will change not only the behaviour of our kids but also the behaviour of  our whole society.

In other words, according to the authors of the flier: The great queering of Ontario's school children has begun.

Let me backtrack: The Accepting Schools Act amends The Education Act of Ontario. Essentially, the Act itself governs all public and Catholic public schools serving students from Kindergarten thru grade 12. It is the guiding document of educators and administrators and even overrides the Ontario Human Rights Code. The Education Ministry document, LEGISLATIVE REQUIREMENTS FROM BILL 13... Accepting Schools Act as follows:
  • New definition of bullying
  • Changes to Section 310(1) of the Education Act (which set out the circumstances in which a pupil must be suspended and considered for possible expulsion) which now includes certain circumstances related to bullying and to activities that are motivated by bias, prejudice or hate.
  • Amending board multi-year plans to include the goals set out in Bill 13 around positive school climate and bullying prevention.
Not everyone in the province agrees on Bill 13, which brings me back to this flier.

I immediately opened up my email to share the document with union colleagues on the ETT's (Elementary Teachers of Toronto) LGBTQI Committee. A member of the local's executive had beat me to it and was passing it around. A handful of us messaged back and forth, and finally decided that two of us would attend the meeting as observers, with a view to taking to the microphone if we thought it was safe to share dissenting views.

My colleague and I met at the foodcourt of the East York Town Centre an hour before the Sunday meeting was to start. Safety was a concern. Would we be seen as interlopers? We decided to press on, attend the meeting, keep a low profile, take notes, and speak only if we felt safe to do so.

Having grown up in Thorncliffe Park, I knew the exact location of the meeting -- it was in a community centre attached to the public library. We hopped into our cars and headed around the block to the meeting.

We were in for a surprise. The community centre and library were locked tight and dark.

As we were reading the cancellation notice, two uniformed police officers also appeared on the scene. After checking the doors, one of them made a call on his cell phone. I asked the other officer if he knew anything about the meeting or the cancellation. He said that he and his partner had no idea that it was cancelled.

"I guess you know what the meeting was about?" I ventured. "Does that have anything to do with why you're here?"

"Oh no, we work in the community," he said. "We always stop by when there's a large event going on."

A friend of mine is looking into what prompted the cancellation of the meeting. As for the police presence, this is a hot topic right now -- I've seen tempers flare.

As I posted previously, the passage of Bill 13 triggered the dissemination of family "spiritual values letters," which parents have been submitting to schools, requesting that they be advised in advance of certain topics they deem inappropriate for their children. Further parents have asked that this letter be placed in the child's OSR (Ontario Student Record), essentially a permanent file in which all relevant information about a student is kept. I wrote about Dr Steve Tourloukis, who is suing the Hamilton-Wentworth District School Board over the refusal of his children's school to advise him in advance of lessons on topics contrary to his faith.

The "family spiritual values" story and this recent event in Thorncliffe Park piqued my curiosity. Where are all these letters coming from? Who are the players? What are they playing at?

Two names kept coming up: Phil Lees and Jawed Anwar. Lees, along with Shaukat Malik, was scheduled to speak at the Thorncliffe Park event. Anwar's name came up when I searched the web for information on "Parent Action Committee Thorncliffe Toronto."

Let's start with Phil Lees. Lees is the founder of P.E.A.C.E. Hamilton (Public Education Advocates for Christian Equality), which disseminates the "spiritual values letters." Since my last visit to the site, Lees has added letters for Catholic, Muslim, Protestant and non-religious parents.

Lees is also a former president of the Hamilton-Wentworth Family Action Council, which has campaigned against abortion counselling for teens and seems to take a rather dim view sexual health curriculum in the region. Lees is also the leader of Family Coalition Party (Ontario).

According to Lees, In Ontario, particularly with the passage of same-sex marriage and, most recently, Bill 13, it's been like a tidal wave of change to curriculum in the last, um, most recently. And we've got people of all different faiths who are expressing concern about what their students, their children, are being exposed to. In grade three, as part of instruction, teachers are asking their eight-year-olds who they'd like to marry. Then they bring in a minister that, uh, that believes in same-sex marriage who performs a mock same-sex wedding ceremony. And then they celebrate with cake and ice cream.

In a YouTube video produced by the Minnesota Catholic Conference and Minnesota for Marriage, Lees cautions Minnesotans on the perils of same-sex, engaging in a bizarre diatribe on Ontario's Bill 13, "The Accepting Schools Act." A state ballot was to be placed before the electorate on November 6, 2012, reversing the legislature's legalization of same-sex marriage. Voters upheld the legislature, and Minnesota takes its place among nine States to have some form of same-sex marriage or civil union.

This reference to mock wedding ceremonies pops up here and there on Lees' talks and websites -- completely without attribution. A quick scan of the TDSB's Challenging Homophobia Challenging Homophobia and Heterosexism: A K-12 Curriculum Resource Guide (2001) shows nothing like the above example. Lees and others assert that the TDSB guide is, in fact, a stealth Ministry of Education document, soon to be disseminated throughout the province. Google searches about this anecdote lead right back to Lees' sites. For an instructional strategy that is, as Lees would have us believe, so widespread, one would expect it to pop op in a blog, a newspaper story, or even on facebook.

He goes on: "The Ministry of Education requires every school to institute a queer hero strategy, which means successful people who are homosexual -- their sexual orientation when they are being studied in school -- needs to be acknowledged to the students." And again, I searched and searched. Again, I was lead back to Lees.

Another Lees anecdote is a textbook example of a carpenter building a roof and applying the Pythagorean theorum. The carpenter, says Lees, is a cross-dresser. Different permutations of the cross dress and carpenter yielded only links to racy personal ads, so I bailed on further investigation of Lees conspiracy theories about the queering of Ontario schoolchildren.

His last comment, though, bears careful consideration.
People in this state [of Minnesota] have an opportunity to stop same-sex marriage. In Ontario, we did not -- we were not given that privilege. I'm encouraging you to take advantage of this [impeding state ballot]. Stand up for your religious freedoms and defend your right to raise your children in a way that you believe to be appropriate. 
In the world according to Lees, it is desirable for the majority to vote on the human rights of the minority. An Ontario Human Rights Code does not exist in Lees' world. The fact that that code ensconces protection -- not for gays and lesbians -- but from discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation for the past twenty-five years is irrelevant.

In my next blog, I'll examine some of Jawed Anwar's works, his apparent ties to Lees, and various conspiracy theories floating around about Bill Thirteen.

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